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Delegates Call for End to Criminalization, Stigmatization of HIV/AIDS at Close of AIDS Conference

Posted by pozlife on August 15, 2008

August 11, 2008

Delegates at the close of the XVII International AIDS Conference on Friday in Mexico City called for a reversal of laws that criminalize and stigmatize people living with HIV/AIDS, the New York Times reports.
South African Justice Edwin Cameron said that criminalization of HIV is a “poor tool for regulating HIV infection and transmission,” adding that there is “no public health rationale for invoking criminal law sanctions against those who unintentionally transmit HIV or expose others to it.” Cameron cited cases in Texas, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Bermuda and Switzerland. He added that although he understands that public health officials might want to establish laws to address people who recklessly spread HIV to others, criminalization is “warranted only where someone sets out, knowing he has HIV, to infect another and succeeds” (Altman, New York Times, 8/8). In addition, laws that criminalize HIV/AIDS are “misdirected and bad” and are “creating a crisis in HIV management and prevention efforts,” Cameron said (Picard, Globe and Mail, 8/9).
Bruno Spire, president of the French nongovernmental organization AIDES, at the close of the conference called for improving laws and policies to fight HIV-associated stigma and discrimination against groups at high risk of the virus, such as injection drug users, commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Delegates at the close of the conference also discussed progress made in preventing HIV transmission. Pedro Cahn, immediate past president of the International AIDS Society, said that HIV/AIDS researchers have “learned more than ever” that treatment works as a prevention tool but that they “must be better at using it in prevention practice.” Cahn added that the 25,000 participants at the AIDS conference are “now accountable to push their governments” for better HIV prevention and treatment programs (New York Times, 8/8).
Delegates at the close of the AIDS conference also discussed the need to focus on a “triple combination” of treatment, prevention and human rights to enable people living with HIV/AIDS to lead normal lives, Toronto’s Globe and Mail reports. Michel Kazatchkine — executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — said that it is “clear” that the HIV research community has “moved on from the fruitless debate between prevention and treatment that has plagued us in the past,” adding that treatment and prevention are complementary.
However, Kazatchkine added that efforts to increase prevention and treatment will not be successful unless “human rights remain at the core” of efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. Julio Montaner, the new IAS president, said that “[f]ailure to enact a comprehensive, sustained and multipronged attack on the pandemic represents a crime against those infected, those affected and those susceptible,” adding, “Indeed, it represents a crime against humanity” (Globe and Mail, 8/9).
A kaisernetwork.org Daily Roundup is available online with video highlights from Friday’s plenary and closing session.

Newspapers Provide Coverage of Conference’s Close
Several newspapers reported on the close of the AIDS conference. Summaries appear below.

  • AFP/France 24: Although advocates have succeeded in increasing available funds to provide treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS, it is “extremely improbable” that the global health community will “have the structure and financial ability to take on all the people who require [antiretroviral drugs] and treat them for life,” Anthony Fauci, director of NIH‘s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said at the AIDS conference (Ingham, AFP/France 24, 8/9).
  • AP/Google.com: The story examines HIV/AIDS prevention efforts aimed at men who have sex with men. MSM receive fewer HIV prevention services of any at-risk group, and less than 1% of the $669 million in global prevention spending targets MSM, according to UNAIDS figures from 2006. The article also profiles Jorge Saavedra, director of Censida, the National Center for the Control of HIV/AIDS in Mexico (Watson, AP/Google.com, 8/9).
  • Globe and Mail: The Globe and Mail on Monday profiled Montaner, who also serves as director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (Picard, Globe and Mail, 8/11).
  • New York Times: Several HIV/AIDS advocates at the close of the AIDS conference said there is a need to be more imaginative in efforts to educate people about HIV/AIDS. One campaign — called “If I Were HIV-Positive …,,” a joint effort by AIDES and the International AIDS Society — has “printed posters and postcards and created advertisements using photographs of prominent people above questions meant to challenge stereotypes” about people living with the virus (Lacey/Altman, New York Times, 8/9)

NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Friday reported on efforts to reduce the spread of HIV among commercial sex workers and MSM in Mexico. The segment includes comments from Jaime Carmen Pena, a health educator with Population Services International; Ricardo Roman of PSI; and Saavedra (Beaubien, “All Things Considered,” NPR, 8/8).
Kaisernetwork.org was the official webcaster of the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. A webcast of the closing session during which Cahn, Kazatchkine and Montaner spoke is available online. A webcast of the session during which Cameron and Spire spoke also is available online.

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